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Hypothermia in Dogs — Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

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Published on
Sunday 14 October 2018
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
dog hypothermia
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When a dog is in a state of hypothermia, their body temperature dropped below healthy levels. Hypothermia can be life-threatening if sustained for too long.

Wintertime is generally the time of the year in which most cases of dog hypothermia occur. Low body temperatures, frostbites, and other hypothermia symptoms mainly target puppies, outdoor dogs, and outdoor living dogs. Toy breeds are way more at risk than any other type of dogs.

What is dog hypothermia?

Dog hypothermia, also commonly referred to as canine hypothermia, is a medical condition in which the temperature of the dog’s body is drastically below the normal temperature. Hypothermia in dogs is characterized by a reduced body temperature in which the body begins to dissipate more heat than it absorbs.

The average body core temperature in a dog is between 101 degrees and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, therefore, any temperature falling under 100 degrees is considered hypothermia in dogs. Sustained hypothermia in dogs leads to more complications and the possible death of the dog.

Extremely low body temperature in dogs that ultimately leads to hypothermia usually follows three stages which include:

  1. mild hypothermia – the body temperature is between 90 and 99 degrees,
  2. moderate hypothermia – the body temperature is between 82 to 90 degrees,
  3. severe hypothermia – the body temperature drops below 82 degrees.

When a severe or acute hypothermia happens, the body can no longer maintain its own temperature causing the central nervous system to slow down, and gradually shut down. This condition may also affect the heart, blood flow, immune system, as well as the respiratory system. In extreme cases, hypothermia in dogs can lead to troubled breathing, irregular heartbeat, and impaired consciousness or a possible coma.

When do dogs get hypothermia?

The main causes of hypothermia in dogs are prolonged exposure to extremely low temperatures, wet skin or fur, shock, or cold water submersion for long periods of time. The exception to this is newborn dogs which are more sensitive to the cold and may develop hypothermia under normal body temperatures. Smaller breeds of dogs, as well as dogs of older age, are more susceptible to this condition. Due to low body temperatures, a dog can suffer from a severe case of frostbite which may turn into hypothermia if not treated.

As the temperature in a dog’s body begins to lower, oxygen and blood flow begin to decrease.

Wet skin and damp fur lower the time it takes for a dog to reach its maximum threshold as the body will get colder faster. The same thing applies to dogs who are submerged under cold water for a long period. Hypothermia in dogs is also common during the anesthetic procedure during surgery.

Some types of diseases that make it hard for an organism to regulate his or her own body temperature are also common causes of canine hypothermia, or at least increase the risks. Diseases such as hormonal imbalances, kidney disease, or any sickness that causes a malfunction with the normal blood flow are all common triggers. Disease of the hypothalamus also plays a crucial role in causing dog hypothermia due to its primary function in controlling appetite and body temperature. Hypothyroidism, which is a condition characterized by lower levels of the thyroid hormone, also may be a cause.

canine hypothermia temperature
if your dog’s body temperature drops below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, medical attention is urgently required.

How to tell if a dog has hypothermia?

Knowing when a dog is suffering for hypothermia is a matter of closely monitoring your dog’s movement and attitude. As soon as there is just a single sign of hypothermia, place your dog in a fleece blanket or on a heating pad. Call your veterinary clinic to get assistance with first aid and prevent aggravation.

Strong shivering

The most common sign of hypothermia in dogs to watch for is shivering. This is not referring to shaking every now and then, but rather, ongoing. In general, most dogs do shiver quite a bit when they are exposed to low temperatures.

Small breeds of dogs tend to shiver even when the conditions seem normal. However, canine hypothermia will cause small dogs to shiver uncontrollably. The shivering will seem much stronger than the average shake.

Let your dog run a bit and burn some calories and see if he is still shivering afterward. If he is, then chances are, there is a more serious issue at play here. At this point, take action in wrapping him up and keeping him warm until he receives medical attention. Once a dog has reached the level in which shivering becomes a constant nuisance in his behavior, then it needs to be dealt with by a vet. Especially when all steps have been taken to minimize, or even eradicate, this symptom.

Pale skin

When low temperatures begin to affect a dog, you will always notice a change in their color. If you suspect your dog may have hypothermia, take a good look at his skin color. As one of the most common symptoms to be represented in a case of dog hypothermia, pale skin is a very telling sign that lets you know something is not right with your pet. This is caused by a weak blood pressure.

In order to check this, roll back your dog’s fur. Check for any odd discoloration such as white or bluish tones. Grey skin and a dull ash color can indicate a serious problem. If you do notice these skin discolorations or anything that is very pale in comparison to his normal pink skin, then get your dog inside warmer settings as soon as possible because, at this point, your dog will not be able to recover from the underlying issue.


When dog hypothermia begins to set in, it will have a great effect on a dog’s energy level. Lethargy and slower movements are good signs to check for when deciding whether or not hypothermia is at the root.

Lethargy is more than just feeling tired. If your dog is usually pretty active, you will notice a sudden listlessness and change of pace following the exposure to the cold. If you have to move him around with the leash or call to him in order for him to move, then that’s a sure sign he may be suffering from hypothermia. Dogs will walk faster in cooler weather, and in the cold, they will trot.

If the dog reaches a point of giving up, it means his system is shutting down. Pick him up and seek immediate medical attention.


Frostbites in dogs are the direct result of the extremities of the body being exposed to extremely cold temperatures. Frostbite usually occurs in the:

  • hands,
  • feet,
  • ears,
  • nose, or
  • tail.

These are areas where there are less fat and insulation available to help protect the dog’s body against subzero temperatures. When frostbite happens, the blood vessels constrict and blood flow is directed to the center of the body in order to preserve the most vital organs, such as the heart, to avoid death.

Watch for signs of frostbites in dogs including swelling, discoloration, raw skin and blisters in the affected area. Symptoms tend to be worse under the top layer. Sometimes, however, frostbite symptoms do not show up for a few days. This condition is especially common when the icy wind blows directly on the dog’s wet nose or when his paws are wet and come in direct contact with ice. Frostbite left untreated can turn into severe hypothermia.

How to warm a dog with hypothermia?

Treatments for dog hypothermia consists of using various methods to keep the dog warm. The goal is to raise the dog’s body temperature externally and internally by administering lukewarm fluids. If the pet shows signs of frostbite, avoid treating the areas in the cold. Instead, bring him into a warm surrounding and avoid dry heat on the affected body parts.

Make sure you check the dog’s temperature periodically to ensure his temperature stays stable. Every 10 minutes is a good timing reference initially. If the temperature goes below 98 degrees, then you should seek veterinary care immediately. Once his temperature reaches above 100 degrees, you may remove the water bottles or heating pads and take off the towels.

The goal is to keep his temperature at an even base without it going too low. Try to keep him indoors, in a room where the temperature is controlled (air conditioning or heating).

Continue monitoring the dog’s temperature until they begin to move around freely, and remain alert again. It is always recommended to seek medical attention regardless if he is feeling better or not to ensure proper diagnosis. In severe cases of hypothermia in dogs, a vet may have to administer fluids intravenously or insert warm water enemas.

Warm Towels

The first thing you should do is provide warm towels for the hypothermic dog. The initial attempt at warming a dog using the warm towel method is primarily used in order to prevent further heat loss within the body. Indeed, stopping heat loss is the first step toward warming up the dog.

You can do this by warming some towels in the dryer, if one is available, or you can use a hairdryer. Wrap the dog in the warm blankets to keep him substantially warm. You can keep a hot bottle of water wrapped inside a separate towel and place it next to his abdomen as to avoid burning,

Otherwise, you can use a heating pad as long as it is on its lowest setting. In extreme cases of cold weather, you should probably invest in a kennel heater, a heated dog house and a dog house cover if your dog spends a lot of time outdoors.

Heated Water Bowl

You may now begin giving him warm fluids to avoid dehydration. Keeping him hydrated during the process is important as he may be very weak at this point. Use a heated water bowl to keep the water temperature lukewarm (don’t burn the dog’s tongue). There is no need to force the dog to drink the water. Leave the bowl near the dog and encourage them. Then, let them be so they can drink alone willfully.

If they seem too weak to drink, you should immediately drive to your nearest vet clinic.

How to Diagnose Hypothermia in Dogs

Various medical tests including heart, blood, urine, and breathing exams help dianose canine hypothermia. At first, the vet will measure the dog’s temperature in order to determine how severe the case is.

If hypothermia is indeed suspected, then the vet will check the temperature with the thermometer and in serious cases, a rectal or esophageal probe will have to be used. They will usually offer to perform other various exams in order to get a complete diagnostic.

The initial stage is to determine what exactly was the cause of the hypothermia in the first place. Knowing the cause will help greatly in how best to treat the patient. Optional chemistry tests help check for liver, kidney, or pancreatic diseases and dysfunctions.

Battery of Tests

The vet will also check the heartbeat as well as check for any irregularities in the breathing. An electrocardiogram (ECG) will be performed in order to check for the activity within the heart. This test will show how your dog’s cardiovascular system is doing.

Another test performed in order to diagnose hypothermia in dogs is a urinalysis. This test will check some of the key organs’ health by looking at the dog’s urine quality, and sometimes, their fecal matter too. Diseases affecting the quality of urine include kidney failures, urinary tract infections, digestive complications, and more.

These tests, along with a blood analysis, are used to determine other causes of extremely low body temperature. They may end up revealing a low blood sugar problem in the dog, various metabolic disorders, heart disease, or may point out if the dog has sedatives in his system already. Blood tests also help determine whether inflammations, infections, or cases of anemia are present. A thyroid screening will help to determine if the patient’s gland is producing too little or too much.

How to prevent my dog from getting hypothermia?

Keep your dog from being exposed to freezing cold temperatures for long periods of time. If your dog is a newborn, is of old age, or is sick, then you need to take extra precautions. Weaker dogs are more prone to suffer from a drop of body temperature. Investing or building an insulated dog house for wintertime is a major solution, and the first you should think of if you dogs live outdoors quite a bit.

Always keep them warm in the winter and away from drafts. If your dog has previously undergone surgery or anesthesia, he is also at higher risk for hypothermia. Hypothermia caused by anesthesia will require the dog to be covered in warm blankets during the procedure and monitoring his body temperature until after the surgery.

Dogs who suffer from low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), who have low body fat or those who suffer from hypothyroidism or hypothalamic also need to be specially cared for. All these factors come into play when a dog is exposed to low temperatures. Their bodies will not be able to cope with the colder weather as well as other dogs do even in normal conditions where it may not be so cold. In such cases, long-term care may have to be necessary, such as incubation, in order to stabilize their temperature.

Furthermore, always use warm apparel on your pets such as dog boots, sweaters, and other accessories that are designed to keep dogs warm during the colder months, especially in smaller breeds and dogs who have generally thinner fur.

Preventing pet hypothermia in the first place is key. You can prevent hypothermia in your dog by simply avoiding what causes it in the first place. Sounds dull but it is all you have to do to prevent sudden drops of body temperature in dogs. You may use external heat sources such as kennel heaters and infrared heat lamps to keep the dog’s environment constantly warm.

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